BEALLSVILLE, Ohio - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought his bus tour to this bellwether state on Tuesday, where he championed running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and continued attacks on President Obama’s policies affecting energy producers.
A crowd of about 2,600 people, including coal miners and their families in this village of about 400 people, turned out to see the presumptive GOP nominee at American Energy Corp., the first of three stops. Beallsville is located about 35 miles southeast of Wheeling, W.Va.
“I salute you and appreciate the hard work that you do,” Romney told a cheering crowd and 70 miners who walked from the Century Mine onto the stage. “These are tough times for families across Ohio and across the country.”
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, thought to have been a finalist to become Romney’s vice president, is accompanying him on the visits here and in Zanesville and Chillicothe. Portman, a junior senator from suburban Cincinnati, could be critical to helping deliver votes in Ohio and introduced Romney to the crowd.
“Ohio could end up being the state that makes the difference, as we did in two out of the last three presidential elections,” Portman told the Tribune-Review in an interview.
The outcome of the election hinges on “the energy industry and the fact that Ohioans are frustrated by the economy and nervous about the future,” he said.
That gives Romney “an opportunity to talk about a new approach on energy policies and also a new approach to bringing people together to solve these problems,” Portman said. “So, we have a very good chance of winning Ohio.”
Romney announced Ryan, a seven-term Wisconsin congressman, as his choice on Saturday during a visit to Norfolk, Va. The two went their separate ways on Monday so that Ryan could campaign in Nevada and Colorado, also considered battleground states.
Romney asked supporters to convince their neighbors to vote for his team.
“We are going to rebuild the middle class in America,” he said. “We are tired of being tired.”
In Zanesville, Romney intends to meet with business owners at Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl. He plans to attend an evening rally in Chillicothe.
Coal executives consider Ryan a good choice, said Mike Carey, chairman of the Coal Mines Association of Ohio, a trade group.
“The addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket has just brought more energy to the campaign,” said Carey, who stood with Bob Murray, owner of American Energy. The family-owned company is Ohio’s largest coal producer, producing about 60 percent of coal mined in the state, Carey said.
Obama plans three campaign stops in Iowa and Vice President Joe Biden plans to campaign in two Virginia cities, the campaign said.
The United Mine Workers of America late last week said it would not endorse Obama’s reelection, reversing a 2008 endorsement. The union counts 600 active members in Ohio and more than 100,000 active and retired coal industry workers nationwide, spokesman Phil Smith said.
The campaigns are gearing up as the political conventions approach, under a cloud of 8.3 percent unemployment and a sluggish economy. The Republican National Convention opens Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla., and the Democrats will convene in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 3.
Ohio remains a critical state, said Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio, “both in terms of electoral votes and in terms of mythology.”
“For the Republicans, no winning candidate has mastered that feat without winning Ohio,” Kelley said.
The state, split fairly evenly with Republicans and Democrats, often produces swing votes, he said, “so both campaigns will spend a great deal of resources in winning Ohio — especially Romney.”
Here, the economy could be a huge factor affecting votes, Kelley said.
“The president gets the credit for an improving economy and will get the punishment for a failing economy, whether it is deserved or not,” he said. The country is adding jobs, he noted, although slowly.
“What Romney needs to do is to redirect the focus back to the economy, which is where most voters have the most concern” Kelley said.
This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.